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An Archaeological Dig in a 1903 Tenement

Was: Two cramped apartments divided by a structural wall.
Is: A light-filled two-bedroom with a 50-foot living room.

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When Ghiora Aharoni first began renovating his apartment in a tenement building on Leroy Street in the West Village, he felt ever so slightly like Indiana Jones. “It was like an archaeological site,” says the Israeli-born principal of Ghiora Aharoni Design Studio. “So I learned about the tenement and got all the information I could” about the vernacular of a particular kind of turn-of-the-century architecture. The trick here was how to combine two warren-y apartments (one of which he lived in) into one modern living space, while harking back to the building’s more primordial use of space and materials. This meant abolishing anything that didn’t feel authentic. Aharoni stripped the rooms to their barest bones, taking down walls and, in the process, unearthing scraps of newspapers stuffed in between ceiling beams dating from 1903, the year the building was finished. With its original bricks, beams, and wooden studs exposed after removing the lath and plaster from the walls, the apartment has taken on an almost Quaker-like simplicity (though Quakers are not known for ebonizing their floors). “The final product looks like I did something grand, but I didn’t,” he says.

For Aharoni, the two apartments’ kitchens, which shared a wall before the spaces were combined, were the most important zones in the house: the hearths for each family. He found the chimney that fed into both apartments, and from that he made a connecting fireplace that looks through to either side. (Aharoni calls the work of his contractors, F&N Solutions, “spectacular.”)

Throughout the apartment, a black-and-white scheme dominates, but Aharoni insists that’s not the final word. “I am not a black-and-white person,” he says, laughing. “I am very sensitive to color, so I am still waiting for the elements. Between us, do I like the black-and-white palette? No, I think it is a very bland palette. I know there will be two blue-and-red chairs at some point.”

In the meantime, the atmosphere could hardly be described as cold. “The eight windows!” Aharoni is quick to exclaim when asked what makes him most proud about his house. “When I wake up in the morning, I have eight beams of light on the floor. I am like, Wow! That is really luxury!” Equally luxurious is “the fact that you come into a 50-foot living room. There is a major contradiction here. I am always saying that I live in a tenement, but when you come to my tenement, it’s like luxury in disguise.”


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